August 29th 2015


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Same-sex marriage and the SOGI ideological agenda

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Canada: basic freedoms lost since same-sex marriage came to town

CANBERRA OBSERVED Abbott, Shorten fixin' for some feudin' next year

OBITUARY RIP Frank Scully, last survivor of the Labor Split

EDITORIAL Colleagues digging holes Tony Abbott has to fill in

EDUCATION There must be a better plan than Naplan

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Sukarno makes way for Suharto's "New Order"

HISTORY Fateful indecision: the tragedy of Rabaul

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part I

SCOTUS: JUDICIAL ACTIVISM On the having of the cake and the eating of it too

LIFE ISSUES When an abomination becomes good business

CINEMA Spy sequel vies with a spy history repeat Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

BOOK REVIEW An important biography of B.A.

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BOOK REVIEW
An important biography of B.A.




News Weekly, August 29, 2015

SANTAMARIA: A Most Unusual Man

by Gerard Henderson

(Melbourne, Miegunyah Press)
Hardcover: 505 pages
ISBN: 9780522868586
Price: AUD$59.99. Available
from Freedom Publishing.

 

Reviewed by Peter Westmore

 



Gerard Henderson’s biography of B.A. Santamaria has had a long gestation. In his acknowledgements, the author writes that a publisher commissioned him to write a biography of Bob Santa­maria shortly after his death in 1998, and he began work on it immediately.

At the outset, I have a declaration of interest to make. I worked alongside Bob Santamaria from 1976 until his death, and before that was a member of the National Civic Council from my university days in the mid 1960s, like Gerard Henderson himself. I am also referred to a number of times in the book.

Gerard contacted me a short time after Bob Santamaria died, asking if I would make available the NCC’s records for the biography. I responded that I thought it was too early for that. I did not hear from him again.

Gerard has written a highly personal memoir of Bob Santamaria, based on the papers of the NCC which he accessed when employed by the organisation in the early 1970s, and on interviews with many of Santamaria’s former associates. This gives the biography an interesting and revealing character.

Gerard is highly complimentary of Bob’s steadfast Catholicism and commitment to social justice, his personal kindness towards many people, and his leadership in the fight against communism in the Australian labour movement.

He shows how Bob was ahead of his time in his concern for immigrants and refugees. He shows how he contributed to the ending of the White Australia Policy in Australia in the 1960s. He refers to Bob’s recognition of the importance of Asia to the future of Australia, and his scepticism of reliance on alliances with Great Britain and later, the United States. He recognises Bob’s willingness to espouse and articulate unpopular causes, which helps to explain why his autobiography was titled, Against The Tide.

But the biography is coloured by the author’s own ambivalent relationship with Bob, referred to in the flyleaf of the book, which describes Henderson as “a close colleague until a disagreement saw the two men estranged and never reconciled”.

This apparently occurred in the mid-1970s. The nature of this disagreement is not disclosed, though the author evidently had a gradual disenchantment from his mentor. This undoubtedly colours the content and tone of this biography. There are many examples of this in the book, but some minor illustrations will suffice.

In discussing the family environment in which Bob Santamaria grew up, Henderson discusses at some length whether the family grocery store was a greengrocery or a liquor store, and suggests that Giuseppe Santamaria turned it into a liquor store for the money.

The fact is that Bob’s father owned a greengrocery in a predominantly Italian immigrant area. As time passed, the family business diversified, selling pasta, cheeses and cured meats, to meet the needs of the local community. A liquor licence, also usual in an Italian-style grocery to this day, required special government permits, and came later.

Another example is the discussion of Bob’s father, with dark suggestions – never confirmed – that he was an SP bookmaker. What the relevance of this is, other than to cast aspersions on a person who came to Australia with nothing but a primary school education, who established a close and loving family, and through hard work was able to build a family business and within a generation to give his children an outstanding education?

His discussion of Bob’s character is similarly ambiguous. He describes how Bob was a prolific reader, but suggests that he rarely finished reading a book. He portrays Bob as authoritarian and insensitive to those who worked for him. Personally, I did not have this experience. But undoubtedly some of those who fell out with him, and whom Henderson has interviewed, felt that Bob did not understand them or give them the recognition they felt they deserved.

Bob Santamaria was a product of his time, and some of the things he said and wrote may seem harsh by current standards, but he did not ask others to do what he was not prepared to do himself.

I know, for example, that after Bob began writing a weekly column for The Australian, without fanfare he reduced the income he received from the NCC. Few of his colleagues would have known.

The early parts of this book, based on Bob’s correspondence and the NCC papers, are the most interesting.

Two-thirds of the book deal with the period before the Labor Split in 1954. Little is said about what happened after the Split, the long struggle inside the labour movement, and Bob’s response to Australia’s changing economic and strategic situation from the 1960s until the late 1990s. Yet it was in this period that, arguably, he made his greatest contribution to Australia.

The latter part of the book includes chapters critical of Bob’s attitude to the Liberal Party, and the Catholic Church, and blaming him for the “troubles” within the NCC that lasted from 1978 to 1982.

Having been involved with the NCC, I can say categorically that Bob worked closely with allies in the Liberal Party and the Catholic Church at the time.

In relation to the troubles within the NCC, Henderson misunderstands the nature of the problem, which arose from a breakdown in personal relations at the national executive of the organisation, what was described at the time as “a crisis of authority”. These differences were ultimately resolved through the organisation’s constitutional processes. The result was that several people, on whom Henderson relied for information, left the NCC.

This is an interesting book that gives a highly personal interpretation of the life of Bob Santamaria. Undoubtedly, there is a great deal more to be written about this remarkable man.


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